Holl and Tordella-Williams | Image: Matt Holl

by Julia Leopold

In their relationship, Matthew Holl and Kristen Tordella-Williams blur the lines between artistry and carpentry. Both use tools extensively in their work, yet they serve a different purpose. For Tordella-Williams, tools are a way to explore human history and evolution through her art. For Holl, similar tools provide a way for him to build functional, yet innovative, structures.

Tordella-Williams, an Assistant Professor of Art at Millsaps College, is an artist across multiple modalities, including digital art, sculpture, drawing and even performance art. While each method is different, the commonality is that she throws herself wholly into the work. “Something happens in the process of making,” she explains, “I make myself a slave to the process.”

The end goal of her artwork is for it to look handmade, so the viewer can see each taxing moment that was spent on its creation. For Tordella-Williams, this led to particular frustration when she realized that a needle piece she was working on, which consisted of thousands of tiny hand-tied knots, was meticulous to the point of looking machine-made.

Most recently, Tordella-Williams has been exploring the relationship between human culture and tools in her art. Her latest project involves lengths of paper, which she made herself, being cut in the shapes of tools and then stitched together to form 40 long scrolls. In their completion, these scrolls will be hung in the Lewis Art Gallery of Millsaps College next winter. The inspiration behind this project was a recent trip to Shanghai, where she explored different types of fossils on display in a museum. “What types of fossils are we making now?” she questioned, hoping that her viewers will find an appreciation for current technology in her handmade work.

Holl is a self-described “pre-merging artist,” and recognizes that he wears many different hats as a result. At Millsaps College, he is the director of the Lewis Art Gallery, an adjunct French professor, technical director, and theatre instructor, or as Kristen more simply puts it, a “Renaissance Man.”

His work combines aesthetic appeal and functionality, such as when he built a desert island complete with a working waterfall and cave for the Jackson Public School’s Power APAC performance of The Tempest.

“Much of what I do is out of need,” Holl  says, and nods to the workspace he built for Kristen in the couple’s Fondren home. The studio desk with its collapsible sides, built-in Bluetooth speakers and movable peg shelves, was crafted to be her ultimate mobile studio. Apart from being incredibly utilitarian, its innovative design led to Holl winning a national award for a shelving contest through His proficiency in shelving design was recognized by local author Katy Simpson Smith, who requested a custom bookshelf for her home in New Orleans. Holl noted that he had to work within the unique constraints of the room, creating a trapezoidal shape to the shelves.

In addition to the couple’s work at Millsaps, you can also find Tordella-William’s art at the Eudora Welty Library in downtown Jackson later this summer; she is crafting an iron wreath made up of handprints of those who work at the local library. While the two don’t have any immediate plans for a collaborative work, the two are discussing creating a book of Holl’s poetry to be written on Tordella-Williams’ handmade paper.

On the Verge

Holl has taken on a new task for 2016 – as producer of Verge – “the-festival-formerly-known-as-Figment.”

Verge, set for April 2017, bills itself as “a free interactive art festival for Jackson and its surrounding communities that celebrate expression and diversity in all forms.”

“We are inviting all visual, performance artists, musicians and people who just want to be creative to join us in making Verge a success,”Holl says.

There are several ways to be involved.

– Apply to be one of the artists at Verge and have your own interactive project at the festival.
– Volunteer to help out the day of Verge and/or for events leading up to the festival.
– Become a committee member and be involved from the beginning. Committees include Curatorial, Face to Face, Fundraising, Logistics.

Learn more about how you can be involved with Verge on their Facebook page,